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Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Friendship and Mortality

on thursday, october 23, my father, roland lazarus silver, passed away

he died at 80 years old, after a long, painful struggle with cancer and radiation

although i spent the months up to this time asking myself if there was anything to "resolve" with him and felt loving and completely at peace with our relationship, people told me there would always be something unsaid or that i would wish to know

and there is – i wish to know more about his life: his mistakes, his proudest moments, his passions, his thoughts, his adventures, his loves, his losses; not as a role model or father, but as an intelligent, self-made man, a kindred traveler, a fascinating and perfectly flawed fellow human being

15 years ago, my childhood home caught fire, and along with everything else, all our family photos were incinerated; afterward, friends and family sent us copies of photos, some replacements, some entirely new-to-us or long-forgotten

out of loss came, pieced together, new fragments, even more precious since they came anew, gathered by friends near and far

the following is a letter from my mother's first husband, whom she was with before she met my father

it is beautiful of it's own account, but it also paints a resplendent fragment of my father's life, rescued from his ashes, a detail that would otherwise would have died with him last week


A friend of mine died today. He was not a close friend; indeed, although I knew him for 45 years, I barely knew him at all, and some people would be surprised that I considered him a friend.

Rollo Silver was 80 years old. He died in a hospital in the Boston area where I first knew him, although he spent the last half of his life living in New Mexico. Rollo was married to my first wife, Beverly. Even though Beverly and I were married for ten years, she spent most of her life with Rollo, and he spent half of his life with her. Our children spent more time under Rollo's roof than under mine,

I was in my late 20s, Rollo in his early 30s when we first met. We were both living in Brookline and had some friends in common. I always found him intriguing because he had an uncommonly vast store of knowledge, a widely ranging curiosity, and a penetrating imagination. He and I shared an interest in futurist speculation and in trying to examine experience without preconceptions. Yet he had an aloof stance that often put me off, and so I sometimes judged him to be too "way out" for me, somewhat strange. Nevertheless I liked him a lot.

Unbeknownst to me, he and Beverly fell in love at some point, and eventually she left me to be with him. Friendships usually end when such things happen, but I was surprised – after several years of anger and resentment – to find myself on friendly terms with both Rollo and Beverly. There was always some tension between us. Reflecting on this, I came to think that both of us strove to be non-judgmental and non-competitive in our dealings with others, but that we aroused these traits in each other when we were together. So an uneasy relationship precluded a close friendship. And yet we were friends.

Rollo was something of a "renaissance man". He translated his love of mathematics into beautiful pictures based on the Mandelbrot set, and he played Mozart angelically on the piano. He founded a commune of sorts in New Mexico, and he developed the practical skills needed to get by on very little in that environment. He abandoned a career at MIT but he continued to work as a computer scientist.

He and Beverly with the help of a host of friends built a beautiful house on the Lama mountainside. The bricks were made by hand, rammed earth with cement, dried like adobe in the New Mexico sun. Some of those bricks included my labor, and somehow that helped me "cement" our friendship. The house burned down in a wildfire, but the brick walls are still intact.

In one of our last conversations, Rollo reminisced nostalgically about a cross-country trip he took in his teens, right after WWII. He rode the rails with a friend, like hobos of the 30s, and he told me of the powerful effect of lying on a flatcar and watching the stars overhead in the summer sky. It's an image that has lingered with me, of his heart longing for unity with the rest of nature, while his intellect sought to understand nature deeply. I felt the experience he described — and I felt it was as much about the end of the journey as about its beginning. In some strange way, I rode the rails with him. It's true that over the years Rollo and I hardly ever met or spoke. Even so, there was something we shared, hard to pin down. I'm calling it friendship.

As we age, notions of our mortality become more present in our minds and hearts. Any death will bring these ideas to the surface, but the passing of a friend makes them truly vivid. Not surprisingly, today dying was on my mind.

Reflecting today on Rollo's passing, I thought about how much of our lives are inhabited by our friends; by laughter with friends, by tension between friends, by shared experiences with friends, by simply being friends.

Suddenly, I am overwhelmed by a longing to be with my friends. There are so many friends that I haven't seen recently, that I haven't spoken to for a while, that I haven't corresponded with for some time, that I miss in my life.

If you received this letter from me, it's because you are in that number. You are one of the friends that I miss, even if I saw you yesterday. I wanted to write to you today because even though I expect to live a lot longer, I am reminded that any one of us could die tomorrow.

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Posted by LiYana at 7:03 pm

One Response to “Friendship and Mortality”

  1. Daniel

    Rolo was always on the fast tract.A great story was the time he interviewed for a job at Sander Assoc.He and I were still at the interview under the influaance of some LSD he had made. Very funny story but I guess you had to be there. Love to Bev, Dan Brayton Marblehead.

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